Coping with Long Meetings at Work

Meetings have always been the worst part about any job for me. They make me anxious and stress me out so I have developed strategies for coping with them.

What follows is written from my own, personal experience. Meetings have always been the worst part about any job for me and have even driven me to find new jobs when they occur too often or become too long. I don’t like them.

That last statement seems obvious and perhaps even a bit arrogant. After all, there aren’t many developers who particularly like meetings, are there? So why is it that I am taking the time to write about this topic at all?

It is because they stress me out more than any other factor in the workplace. They make me anxious and make me often feel like I’m wasting precious minutes of my life on something I don’t see the point of.

A Feeling of Wasted Time

As a developer, meetings make me feel unproductive and as though my work is on hold until I can get back to my computer. A lot of developers I have talked to over the years share that feeling to a greater or lesser extent. There are also those that enjoy meetings, but most of them I have known went on to become product owners, managers or moved away from development entirely.

Even if a meeting is planned, it is difficult for me to leave what I am working on and shift my focus. It is stressful for me, especially if I am “in the zone” and focused. In that case, I often have troubles concentrating on the meeting because my head is still back at my desk in my work.

Leaving in the middle of what I was doing makes it difficult to drop what I was working on and where I was in it. I know that after the meeting, I won’t be able to just pick up again where I left off and will require time to get back into it. That is incredibly stressful.

Plain, Simple Anxiety

That isn’t, however, the only stressor. Another important factor that plays a role for me is plain, simple anxiety. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to have Social Anxiety Disorder, I do get anxious. Meetings just simply stress me out even if I hadn’t been working beforehand — something that just makes it all the much worse.

For me, it appears to be an issue with too many people and too many signals. I get overwhelmed and the longer a meeting goes, the worse it gets. I am left exhausted, demotivated and, if the meeting is long or intense enough, even unable to continue working.

That is why I find another employer if there are too many meetings or they go on for too long — it thoroughly and unapologetically exhausts me to the core which even ends up affecting my personal life outside of work.

How to Cope

In most corporate settings, meetings are unavoidable which means someone like me has to find a way to cope with them. I have identified why I find meetings so unbearable, but how do I cope with them?

This is a question I am afraid I cannot thoroughly answer as it is quite different for every individual. Instead, what I will do is explain what I try to do and what I have done even if I haven’t found the best solution yet.

Find Your Stressors

The first and probably one of the most important things is to find your stressors. For me, it is the constant input from multiple people coupled with the feeling of a general lack of productivity.

When I am ripped away from my work, the need to keep where I left off in my head until I can get back to my desk also plays a major role. I want nothing to do with the meeting at that point and only want to get back to what I was doing beforehand.

Communicate Your Problem

Although it may seem somewhat contradictory and especially difficult for people with anxiety problems, the next step is to be open about it with your coworkers and your boss. Some people may feel the need to hide this, especially if you do have Social Anxiety Disorder, but my experience has shown that most people have at least that much empathy and will understand.

What this has led to for me is a reduction of meetings, a reduction of the length of meetings and even often being told someone will come get me for a meeting only if I am needed and when I am needed rather than making me sit through the whole thing.

Trust me, it helps.

Find Ways of Coping During a Meeting

Unfortunately, not every meeting is avoidable and some meetings will just take a long time regardless of how you feel. This means the next step is to find a way to cope with these inescapable meetings. There are multiple strategies you can try.

One of the easiest is just simply to get up and leave the room for a short break when it all starts to get to be too much. Take a short walk around the office, do some stretches, use the restroom, get something to drink and most importantly, try to think about something else for a few minutes.

Another strategy that has helped me is to write. Yes, that means with pen and paper. First, start by writing down as well as you can that point in your work where you were forced to leave off. That will help clear your head of that blockade. Then, focus on writing notes for the meeting. That will put your focus on the meeting’s content while distracting you from all of the human signals that would otherwise become so overwhelming. As an added bonus, it will look good with your coworkers and your boss.

The last strategy I regularly employ is to distract myself in some other way. Often, I will bring my laptop to the meeting and if I start feeling overwhelmed or anxious, I tune out the meeting and browse the internet for a while. You have to be careful with this one though as it doesn’t look very professional even if it is for your mental health. Doodling on paper might achieve a similar effect and be more acceptable, but I rarely do that.

Conclusion

Meetings are stressful and I hate them. They make me anxious, exhaust me, waste my time and are rarely ever productive for me. I often come out of them wishing I had a job where I could work alone and not have to deal with meetings at all.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t always work the way you need it too which is why I have found strategies to try to cope with my problems. The situation is far from ideal, but they at least make them more bearable.

If you are a manager and have made it through this, I just have to ask you to please treat your developers with kindness and reduce the number of meetings to a bare minimum. It makes for more productive, happier, less tired, less stressed and less anxious employees.

Podcast

An episode of the Developer’s Notebook Podcast also covers this issue. If you would like to listen to it, visit the post for the episode.

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